(photo credit: JPOST STAFF)
NATO launches a new multinational force in Romania on Monday in its latest step to counter Russia along its eastern flank and to check a growing Russian presence in the Black Sea following the Kremlin's 2014 seizure of Crimea.
Initially a small force relying on troops from 10 NATO countries including Italy and Canada, as well as host Romania, the land, air and sea deployments are expected to compliment some 900 US troops already and separately in place throughout the country.
"Our purpose is peace, not war," Romania's President Klaus Iohannis told a session of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly in Bucharest. "We are not a threat for Russia, but we need an allied strategy in the long term, we need dialogue from a strong position of defence and discouragement," he said.
Russia accuses NATO of trying to encircle the country and threatening stability in eastern Europe, which NATO denies.
Around the Black Sea, Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey are NATO members while Georgia and Ukraine aspire to join.
Details of the new force size were unclear. NATO officials said the land component of the force involves a brigade-size multinational NATO force, typically some 3,000 to 4,000 troops, but the contribution of non-Romanian troops is modest.
In additional to existing NATO Black Sea naval patrols, a maritime presence will include more allied visits to Romanian and Bulgarian ports, enhanced training and exercises of a limited scale.
NATO air forces will also be limited at first, but Britain is deploying fighter planes to Romania, and Canada is already patrolling Romanian air space along with national pilots. Italy is patrolling Bulgarian air space.
As in the Baltics and Poland, NATO says relatively light multinational model recalls allied support for West Berlin in the 1950s, when British, French and U.S. forces ensured the Soviet Union could not control all Berlin.
That drives home the commitment enshrined in NATO's founding treaty that an attack on one ally is an attack on all, meaning all 28 NATO nations would be required to respond in the case of any potential Russian aggression.